Oliver Mulpeter was heard to say he ‘would not miss it for the world’ and…
Remembering Sean Mac Caoilte/John Forrestal of Tullamore (1885–1922). Great talent we lost during the revolutionary period.
Happy St Patrick’s Day to all our followers. A good day to recall a talented young man who died all too early. Sean Mac Caoilte/John Forrestal of Henry (now O’Carroll) Street, Tullamore is forgotten in his home town. Why is that? For one thing he died in Dublin at the age of only 37 having spent almost half his life there. He was from a strongly nationalist family with his father Andrew and sister Emily very much associated with the move for independence as was his brother Dick. Séan was a literary man from a young age. Richard (Dick) Barry (born 1880, emigrated to New York 1904) recalled him as prominent in the early days of the Irish Ireland movement in Tullamore. He was also associated with the first historical and literary publication. In the Christmastide of 1903 appeared for the first time Ard na h-Eireann: An Irish Ireland Magazine, published under the auspices of the St. Columkille branch of the Gaelic League at Tullamore. A second and final issue appeared in 1904. This was to be the last such publication from Tullamore until Offaly Heritage in 2003 and Tullamore Annual in 2012. Forrestal was very much the editor of the 1903 magazine and his literary leanings ensured that he was a prime mover in having the new street names for Tullamore recommended by the Gaelic League and adopted by the urban district council. An associate of Forrestal’s and very much in the same mould was the solicitor James Rogers, who in 1903–4 was still a law clerk in A. & L. Goodbody’s Tullamore office. Rogers lived on until 1967 and could have told us much but no one asked.
John Forrestal/ Sean Mac Caoilte (1880-1922). From Fierce Tears Frail Deeds (with permission).
The young Tullamore solicitor James Rogers was busy after 1908 with his own legal practice, but went on to found the Offaly Archaeological and Historical Society in 1938 and had the support of Tribune editor James Pike. The Society suffered during the war years because of transport difficulties, but in 1943 Pike was kind enough to call attention to the contribution of Rogers to the Gaelic League early in the century with his friends John Forrestal and the young Henry Egan. We can return to this in a later blog. But now we want to hand over to an excellent short life of Forrestal published in ainm.ie and reprinted here with authority. The later blog will tell you of a new novel based partly on the life of our Sean Mac Caoilte who died in 1922 in the same year as the Free State was founded. His brother Richard (Dick) was part of the new National army. Emily worked with Mrs Wyer of Church Street another ardent nationalist. The Ainm.ie site is a must for historians and lay people and has lives not to be found in the DIB.
Forrestal homes raided by British military forces in Dublin and Tullamore in 1920 and Wyer’s in Church St where Emily Forrestal worked.
I Sráid Anraí i dTulach Mhór, Co. Uíbh Fhailí, a rugadh é ar 29 Meitheamh 1885. Ina theastas breithe is é Forestal an leagan den sloinne atá ar a athair Andrew, siúinéir. Eliza Monaghan ab ainm dá mháthair. Dáréag a rugadh don lánúin ach ní raibh beo díobh faoi 1911 ach seachtar. Ba é Seán an dara duine díobh sin agus an mac ba shine. Bhí beirt deartháir agus ceathrar deirfiúreacha aige. Tá curtha síos i nDaonáireamh 1901 go raibh sé 15 bliana d’aois agus fostaithe mar chléireach ag an gComhairle Contae, é ina chónaí lena mhuintir i Sráid Anraí. Bhí sé ina bhall den Chumann Liteartha Ceilteach sa bhaile sin agus bhí ar dhuine de bhunaitheoirí Chraobh Tulach Mhór de Chonradh na Gaeilge agus bhí ina rúnaí acu ar feadh tamaill. Toghadh é ina bhall de choiste teicniúil Chomhairle Chontae Uíbh Fhailí. In An Claidheamh Soluis 24 Samhain 1906 dúradh ina thaobh: ‘Tullamore Gaels regret the departure of one of their gifted and earnest workers. In his new career—that of journalism—he will, however, be able to strike a telling blow for the cause’.
Is go Baile Átha Cliath a chuaigh sé agus bhí ina chúntóir liteartha i gcomhlacht clódóireachta Sealy, Bryers & Walker ar dtús agus ansin ina ionadaí acu i mBaile Átha Cliath sular aistrigh sé go comhlacht Thom. ‘Commercial traveller’ an cur síos atá air sa teastas báis. Bhí baint aige le Cumann Lúthchleas Gael sna blianta tosaigh sa chathair agus bhí ar dhuine de bhunaitheoirí fhoireann iomána Dháibhís.
I 1907, comhthoghadh é ina bhall den Choiste Brostuithe, fochoiste den Choiste Gnó a bhí i mbun cúrsaí bolscaireachta. Ceapadh é ina rúnaí ar an Ard-Chraobh agus bhí sé ar dhuine dá dteachtaí chuig Ardfheiseanna 1915 agus 1916. Ó 1917 ar aghaidh bhí sé ina bhall den Choiste Gnó agus chaith sé tamall ina uachtarán ar Chraobh Móibhí. Bhí sé freisin ina bhall de choiste seasta Shinn Féin agus toghadh ina chomhairleoir cathrach é—‘duine den mhórsheisear Gaeilgeoirí ar Chomhairle Chathair Bhaile Átha Cliath’, dar le Misneach 27 Samhain 1919. Deirtear gurbh é ba mhó lena linn ba chionsiocair le stádas a bhaint amach don teanga in imeachtaí an Bhardais. Dhéanadh sé deimhin de go dtugtaí freagraí i nGaeilge ar litreacha Gaeilge. Bhí baint aige le hatheagar a chur ar fhoireann na ranna éagsúla den Bhardas agus le caighdeán thithe an Bhardais a fheabhsú. Faoi 1922 bhí sé i gceist go mór san iomaíocht do phost an Ard-Mhéara. Ainmníodh é i nGlas Naíon mar iarrthóir san olltoghchán ach tharraing sé siar ar mhaithe le Philip Cosgrave.
Gheofar tuairim i dtaobh a chumais chun aisteoireachta ó pháirt Naoise a bheith aige i léiriú de dhráma Thomáis Uí Cheallaigh, Déirdre, ag Oireachtas 1909. Máire Nic Shiubhlaigh a bhí sa phríomhról. Thuairiscigh Sinn Féin 26 Aibreán 1913 páirt a bheith aige in Bairbre Ruadh in Amharclann na Mainistreach. I gcomórtais liteartha an Oireachtais bhain sé an dara duais ar ‘dhráma fada oiriúnach do mhuintir na Gaeltachta’ i 1914, agus i 1918 roinneadh an chéad duais do dhráma nua air féin agus ar Phádraic Ó Conaire. Luaití mar aisteoir é chomh fada siar le 1911. Bhí sé ina bhall de chompántas na gCluicheoirí agus rólanna aige sna drámaí a léirigh siad in amharclann Shráid Hardwicke i 1915–6. Bhí aistí i gcló aige in An Claidheamh Soluis agus Fáinne an Lae i 1917–18.
Bhí baint aige le cúirteanna Shinn Féin agus cuireadh i bpríosún é faoi dhó (Misneach 20 Márta 1920). Bhí sé ar son an Chonartha Angla-Éireannaigh agus chuaigh sé in éineacht le Piaras Béaslaí agus James O’Mara (1873–1948) go dtí na Stáit Aontaithe chun bolscaireacht a dhéanamh don stát nua. Fuair sé bás de niúmóine 29 Meán Fómhair 1922. Phós sé Bríd Nic Fhionnlaoich i 1913 agus bhí cónaí orthu ag 54 Bóthar Marguerite, Glas Naíon. Cailleadh mac leo cúpla lá sular fhill Seán ó na Stáit agus mac eile go gairid ina dhiaidh sin. Dúirt sé in aiste dar teideal ‘His last thoughts of Ireland’ in An Saorstát 14 Deireadh Fómhair 1922: ‘Even now if a sudden frenzy of sanity should seize the Irregulars it might be possible to recover some of this vivifying, exhilarating force but we fear the high emotionalism evinced during the past few years will be replaced by a conservatism that will look with suspicion on everything remotely related to Gaelicisation and in the outcome the Irish Irelander’s idea may disappear’. Scríobhadh ina thaobh san uimhir chéanna sin den iris: ‘Dá gcuirtí síos ar gach rud a rinne Seán ar son na hÉireann líonfhadh sé leabhar mór. Chabhraigh sé le gach obair a rachadh i dtairbhe don tír ach ní féidir a dhéanamh anseo ach a thaispeáint go raibh a chroí riamh san nGaeilge agus gur thábhacht leis obair na Gaeilge go dtí lá a bháis’. De réir séalaí oifigiúla atá i gcomhad faoina ainm sa Chartlann Náisiúnta, ceapadh é ina chinsire scannán, post oinigh, i 1921/2.
Tá sé curtha i nGlas Naíon. Bhí Pádraig Ó Bróithe pósta ar a dheirfiúr Éilís.
Máire Ní Mhurchú
Breathnach, Diarmuid & Ní Mhurchú, Máire, ‘Mac Caoilte, Seán (1885-1922)’, in ainm.ie: An Bunachar Náisiúnta Beathaisnéisí Gaeilge [faighte ar an 14 Márta 2023].
‘Fierce Tears, Frail Deeds’ is an historical novel based on the experiences of the author’s grandparents, Sean and Delia Mac Caoilte, during the turbulent period in 1922 between the Dáil vote on the Treaty and the outbreak of the Civil War. We have it for sale in Offaly History Centre and online at http://www.offalyhistory.com
In Henry Street in Tullamore , Co. Offaly , he was born on 29 June 1885. In his birth certificate Forestal is the version of the surname of his father Andrew , a carpenter. Eliza Monaghanwas his mother’s name. Twelve were born to the couple but by 1911 only seven were alive. Seán was the second of those and the eldest son. He had two brothers and four sisters. He is described in the 1901 Census as being 15 years old and employed as a clerk at the County Council, living with his family in Henry Street. He was a member of the Celtic Literary Society in that town and was one of the founders of the Tulach Mhór Branch of Conradh na Gaeilge and was their secretary for a while. He was elected a member of Offaly County Council’s technical committee. In An Claddieamh Soluis 24 November 1906 it was said about him: ‘ Tullamore Gaels regret the departure of one of their gifted and earnest workers. In his new career—that of journalism—he will, however, be able to strike a telling blow for the cause’.
He went to Dublin and was first a literary assistant in the printing company Sealy, Bryers & Walker and then their representative in Dublin before moving to Thom’s company. He is described in the death certificate as ‘Commercial traveller’. He was involved with Cumann Luthchleas Gael in the early years in the city and was one of the founders of the Dáivís hurling team.
In 1907, he was co-elected as a member of the Promotions Committee, a sub-committee of the Business Committee which dealt with promotional matters. He was appointed secretary of the Ard Craobh and was one of their delegates to the Ardfheissan 1915 and 1916. From 1917 onwards he was a member of the Business Committee and spent some time as president of the Móibí Branch. He was also a member of the Sinn Féin standing committee and was elected a city councillor—’one of the six Irish speakers on the Dublin City Council’, according to Misneach .27 November 1919. It is said that during this time it was most important to achieve status for the language in the proceedings of the Municipality. He made sure that answers were given in Irish to Irish letters. He was involved in reorganizing the staff of the various departments of the Municipality and in improving the quality of the Municipality’s houses. By 1922 he was heavily involved in the competition for the Lord Mayor’s post. He was nominated in Glasnaion as a candidate in the general election but withdrew in favor of Philip Cosgrave.
An idea of his acting abilities can be obtained from his playing the part of Naoise in a production of the play of Tomáis Uí Cheallaigh , Déirdre , at the Oireachtas in 1909. Máire Nic Siubhlaigh played the main role. Sinn Féin reported 26 April 1913 to have a part in Bairbre Ruadh at the Abbey Theatre. In the literary competitions of the Oireachtas he won the second prize for ‘a long play suitable for the people of the Gaeltacht’ in 1914, and in 1918 the first prize for a new play was shared between himself and Pádraic Ó Conaire. He is mentioned as an actor as far back as 1911. He was a member of the company of the Players and played roles in the plays they produced at the Hardwicke Street theatre in 1915–6. He had essays published in The Sword of Soluis and Fáinne an Lae in 1917–18.
He was involved in the Sinn Féin courts and was imprisoned twice ( Courage 20 March 1920). He was in favor of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and accompanied Piaras Beasley and James O’Mara (1873–1948) to the United States to promote the new state. He died of pneumonia on 29 September 1922. He married Bríd Nic Finnlaoich in 1913 and they lived at 54 Marguerite Road, Glasnaion . They lost a son a few days before Sean returned from the States and another son shortly after. He said in an essay entitled ‘His last thoughts of Ireland’ in An Saorstát 14 October 1922: ‘Even now if a sudden frenzy of sanity should seize the Irregulars it might be possible to recover some of this vivifying, exhilarating force but we fear the high emotionalism evinced during the past few years will be replaced by a conservatism that will look with suspicion on everything remotely related to Gaelicisation and in the outcome the Irish Irelander’s idea may disappear’. It was written about him in that same number of the magazine: ‘To describe everything that Sean did for Ireland would fill a large book. He helped with all the work that would benefit the country, but all that can be done here is to show that his heart was always in Irish and that the work of the Irish language was important to him until the day of his death’. According to official seals on file under his name in the National Archives,
He is buried in Glasnaion . Pádraig Ó Bróithe was married to his sister Éílis.
Let us observe
Máire Ní Murchú
Breathnach, Diarmuid & Ní Mhurchú, Máire, ‘Mac Caoilte, Seán (1855-1922)’, in ainm.ie: An Bunachar Náisiúnta Beathaisnéisí Gaeilge [accessed 14 March 2023].
Our thanks to Alma Ní Bhroin of DCU for her assistance.
 Byrne, Tullamore in 1916, for the full text of the 1970 letter.
 Byrne, Printing and bookselling in Offaly etc.
 Midland Tribune, 1 May 1937, 18 Sept. 1943.